The Meaning of Membership

Our church recently held a class for those interested in joining the church.  As I began organizing it, I was exposed to a new trend that is affecting a lot of churches today: church membership has become meaningless.  I found this out firsthand through my efforts to get people to sign up.  I sent out letters and put an insert in the bulletin about the class, but I received no response.  It wasn’t until I began calling, texting, and speaking with people that I was able to find a few interested people.  In one conversation via text I was asked, “Does it really matter if I’m a member?”  This person had attended our church for years, served on various teams and committees, and taught Sunday school for 10 years, but she had never taken the steps into membership.  Reason being: what’s the point?

Her question was valid.  She had already demonstrated her commitment to our church and congregation by participating in its ministry.  Did it really matter if her name was on the membership role?  Obviously, as her pastor, I needed to have a good reason why membership is important.  I responded by explaining that membership is a commitment to God and to His people.  When we experience God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we become members of His body (1 Cor. 12).  If you’re a Christian, you belong to Jesus and to the community of His followers.  It’s kind of part of the deal, yet it goes against the hyper-individualism that is so prevalent in our culture.  We are not meant to be Lone Ranger Christians; we’re meant to walk the path of discipleship together and membership is a commitment to do so.

Church membership is also a commitment to serve others.  In his book, I am a Church Member, Thom S. Rainer describes how membership is often equated with perks and privileges, comparing it to membership at a country club.  Members of a country club pay for the benefits and services that come with their membership.  Unfortunately, this mentality seeps into other aspects of life.  Comedian John Crist recently came out with a satirical video titled Church Hunters on YouTube, where a couple is shown a church as if they were shopping for a new home.  While hysterical, it expresses the unfortunate truth of the consumer mindset: how can the church serve me?  But that’s not the meaning of membership.  Membership is about how we can serve the church instead of being served by the church.  Church members should be asking how we can serve in and through the church so others might encounter the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Of course there is much more I could share, but I believe the foundation of church membership is making a commitment to love God and to serve others as the body of Christ.  When I responded to the woman who asked the question above, I compared church membership to a marriage – a covenant relationship of love, interdependence, and reciprocity which is initiated through the profession of vows in front of God and others.  Though she recognized the point I was trying to make, she later responded with an incredibly insightful comment: “Just because you are married doesn’t mean you are committed to the marriage.”  Friends, church membership is meaningless unless we are committed to the vows we once made in the presence of God and His people.  May the Lord’s blessing be upon you as you seek to do so.